WHAT IS it about Scotland and indie music? This is the nation which has given the genre many of its defining bands - Belle and Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Camera Obscura, and of course The Vaselines.
While Teenage Fanclub, Camera Obscura, and particularly Belle and Sebastian, have all gone on to enjoy high profiles and a good deal of success, The Vaselines remain very much a cult act, and would probably be a good deal more obscure were it not for a certain individual from Aberdeen in Washington State. Yet their influence has been enormous.
So who are they? The Vaselines were formed in 1986 in Glasgow by songwriters Eugene Kelly and Francis McKee. Quickly they released their debut EP Son Of A Gun. It immediately set the template for their sound and is a landmark indie record.
For the title-track alone the band deserve the highest praise - it mixed a driving beat with guitars that alternated between Velvet Underground-style heavy rock and Byrds-like jangle; while the male/female vocal interplay swelled into a chorus that was both poignant and irresistibly anthemic. A perfect song.
Second EP Dying for It would contain the two songs for which they are best known - the jangling, singalong pop of ‘Molly’s Lips’ and the achingly melancholic and melodic ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’.
These songs were not well known outside of all but the most hardcore indie circles until the 1991-94 period when covered by Nirvana - ‘Son Of A Gun’ and ‘Molly’s Lips’ on Insecticide and ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’ on MTV Unplugged.
The Vaselines had called it a day not long after the release of their debut album Dum Dum in 1989, but after Cobain’s insistence Kelly and McKee resurrected the group supporting Nirvana and playing at the 1991 Reading Festival. A famous photo at the event shows Cobain looking like a star stuck, over-awed, fanboy, standing between Kelly and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake.
The Vaselines again called it a day by the mid-90s as Kelly and McKee concentrated on new musical projects. However with numerous indie bands citing them as influences and a new audience created via Nirvana, they eventually got back together.
In 2008 the duo played the Malawi Orphan Support group at Glasgow’s MONO venue and since then they have performed at festivals across Europe and the US.
Last year Kelly and McKee released their second album as The Vaselines, the excellent Sex With An X, showing the pair’s talents for short, catchy, witty, tough sounding, yet irresistible melodies and old skool indie anthems had not deserted them, and proving that they deserve to be better known than for just being ‘the band that influenced Kurt Cobain’.
The Vaselines play Strange Brew at the Róisín Dubh on Thursday July 14 at 9pm as part of the Galway Arts Festival. The Róisín is also offering a €15 ticket bundle for this show and the performance by The London Snorkelling Team on July 24. See www.roisindubh.net for details.